What’s with this Pokemon thing?

The Yammer product team goes on a field trip to find out.

Every Friday afternoon the product team at Yammer takes a look at another company’s product. We explore enterprise SaaS tools, but also consumer —from social (👻) to conversational commerce (🤖). But we had never done a game teardown… 🎮👾🕹

One week after the Pokemon Go launch we decided to change that, and that Friday afternoon we all grabbed our Clipper Cards and hit the road.

The Format:

This game happens out in the world, so we obviously couldn't take our usual sit-around-a-conference-room-and-philosophize approach! We set out for Duboce park — an area rife with pokestops, ripe for lures, and with a couple of nearby Gyms to boot.

(Bonus! Because the game was already so popular across the org, we opened this teardown to everyone at Yammer. People from Quality, Infrastructure, Design, Research, Apps, and Front End all joined for the trip.)

The adventure begins

At every teardown, we explore the product together, point out things that we notice and try to form comprehensive opinions about what that company is doing and why. We wrap up by answering the following three questions:

  • What did we like?
  • What did we not like?
  • What can we learn from this product?

What we liked:

1. Community

We all felt this sense of community as we went out to play together—people from across the org who had never met were laughing along together as we walked down Market Street. And we got even more community as we picked up random Pokemon players along our walk. Working on the same thing somehow makes people not strangers anymore.

What makes this human connection so available in Pokemon Go? It’s all about the shared reality.

Two Candy Crush players next to each other on the subway wouldn’t think to interact or offer advice because that game is played in a personal space—where the phone is a portal to an intimate, digital reality. Two strangers trying to catch Pokemon, however, are quite likely to bridge that Stranger Gap, because they are playing a public game—one where the phone is a portal to a shared, public reality.

One of our engineers pointed out another major community benefit:

“For the first time in years, I’m seeing a lot of my friends again. They used to stay at home, glued to their gaming consoles and completely disinterested in meeting up to do anything. This game has changed everything.”

2. Sense of Exploration

We all loved the way the game encouraged us to connect with our own city.

“I walk past 8 different murals on my way to work. Before playing Pokemon, I had looked at exactly zero of them.”

One team member talked about how he now takes long walks, meandering and looking up, half paying attention to the game, half not. The pokestops were a guiding light, giving him just enough impetus and direction to go down a new path and explore a new neighborhood.

3. Pokemon!!!

For those of us who grew up hunting Haunters and chasing Chansey, the endorphins run wild when that buzz tells you a pokemon just appeared!

Even the team members who didn’t grow up with the game thought the creatures themselves had a lot of appeal.

“Oh! Look at this flubby one! And look… one of the pointy worms!”

Pokemon were designed for human appeal in the 90s—turns out, that appeal works just the same on humans in 2016, who knew!

One clump of our group, catching some rays along with the pokemon

What we didn’t like

1. Lack of depth

Not all of us had joined the battle circuit, but those who did all felt that the game was pretty shallow. There’s no national leaderboard, no localized or friends-based leaderboards, no Elo rating, no deep technical skills to master, and no true player-v-player mechanics.

At some point you’ve caught all the pokemon in your city, explored all the geotagged locations nearby, and advanced your fighting game as far as the game allows. What do you do next? Unless they add some more complex systems to progress through, players will start abandoning the game soon.

2. Lack of Progress

Everything becomes available at level 5 — Gyms, battling, joining a team. There’s a big sense of momentum that builds up early game (yay!) but it falls off a cliff there.

It’s not really clear what leveling up does for you as you grind along. Only after you reach a level do you find out what new items you can get. And it’s still murky what strength or evolution of a pokemon becomes available at which levels. The game would be even more compelling and sticky if they build more anticipation into the leveling up!

3. Things were confusing

How does the radar thing work? (Does it even work?) How do I get more items? How do pokestops function? What are eggs? How do they work and how are they different than “Lucky eggs”?

Every Yammer team member who just downloaded the app for this teardown said they would have abandoned the game out of frustration. The only thing that kept them in the game was the more knowledgeable friend pointing things out along the way.

Onboarding is a hard problem for every type of product, and games are no exception. Compounding this issue, a lot of people are downloading this game who aren’t used to traditional game onboarding conventions. They need to put more energy into the tutorial phase, and consider that a lot of players are not used to figuring things out on the go.

Of course, no Yammer product teardown is complete without drinks and debate!

What we can learn from this product?

1. Make the core value strong

Let’s face it, this game is hella buggy (and I’m not talking Weedles and Caterpies!) But we all still love it. We snicker and poke fun when the app crashes, but we do so as we’re relaunching for another go.

People have a remarkable tolerance for bugs & issues when the core value is so high. Focus on your core value, hit that one out of the park.

2. Location-based things

Consider “check-in” features for deskless workers, sales staff or multi-office employees. Maybe groups should be more “location” feeling, and have some connection to the real world (not clear how this would work, but it makes you think).

3. Bring more life & fun to the Yammer product

We already have live-updating avatars that let you know when teammates are adding content to your other groups. Maybe play with things like this more!

What about badges for people’s profiles or some gamification around expertise?

There’s so much life in a Yammer network, what can we do to expose more of that to users?

Back to Reality… for now

Back in the office, everyone is still tittering about the game. It’s brought the whole org together in a special way. At lunch today I saw a Scyther… it ran away from me, but I was able to alert my lunch mates and they all caught it.

Playing together in our shared reality.

UPDATE: I’ve been giving this more and more thought. Read Part 2 here: “What will be the next Pokemon Go”

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